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Reflection- Our Inner Voice Gives Us Directions
We learn from reflecting on experiences, feelings and beliefs
Reflection is thinking about what we have done, how we did it, and how we can do it better next time. Some people do it naturally, but others need guidance. As children develop language, parents can begin to ask them questions about how they feel about their actions. When a child is older, they can discuss, with their parents, "what If.....?" about their actions. As children grow to become teenagers, they can learn to routinely spend time reflecting on their actions, not just thinking about them, but also putting thoughts into writing.
In these rapidly changing times, learning is about developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes to learn what we need to know. When we reflect on our actions, we find better ways to do things. Reflection helps us to learn how to learn.
When we critically examine and review our feelings and beliefs, we are better prepared to take wise action in the future. It becomes easier for us to identify unhelpful attitudes and behaviors.
Encouraging reflection requires skill, effort and time
For very small children, who believe they are the centre of their universe, so reflection is about what works, and what does not work. As they grow older, they become more aware that they have a large degree of control over what happens to them. Older learners are able to look at cause and effect in the context of a wider world. They understand that as well as manipulating physical objects, they can influence other people.
However, a good learner needs to be ethically strong. Reflection is more than about what works, or does not; it is concerned with what is right and good. This is the very important point that parents should include in all conversations about reflection. "Right" and "good" mean right and good for everybody, not just the person reflecting.
Teaching children to reflect effectively requires parents to spend time discussing situations with them. This includes applying consequences, including ones that the child may not like. The conversation is then about who has responsibility for the consequence. If consequences for particular actions are clear, before the child acts, then parents should have little trouble in getting the child to understand that the consequence was a direct result of the child's choice. Reflection is about making a wiser choice in the next, similar situation.
Telling inhibits learning
The traditional model of parenting, in most cultures, involves parents instructing their children in how to behave. Parenting is often "do as I say". However, learning happens better when the brain is stimulated into action, when higher levels of thinking are activated.
Consider what happens when someone tells you something. You might listen, but, if you are angry at the person, or do not like what they are saying, their words will make little impression on you. However, if you are asked a question, you have to stop and think about it. You provide your own answer, which makes it more memorable than someone else's words. The learning that results from good questions is much deeper than that gained from simply being told or presented with information.
Children can be shown that reflection is about asking yourself questions, such as "What was I feeling when ... ?", "How could I have done it better?" and "What were the effects on others?". If the child learns to ask and answer these sorts of reflective questions themselves, then they are much more likely to learn positive behaviors than if they are simply told by adults.
Reflection reinforces responsibility
With reflection comes empowerment. Good reflectors understand that they have a very strong degree of control over what happens to them. If they have learned empathy for other people and the environment (through the modelling of adults around them), then they will take responsibility for their actions. They will act more wisely and humanely.
How do we teach reflection?
Before a child can learn to reflect, they must be able to sit quietly, listen, and take part in a conversation. They must be shown how to observe the world around them. This means that parents have to take the time to talk with their children, and ask them reflective questions about their world. Children ask a lot of questions, and parents should take the time to answer them.
A very effective way to begin to answer your children is to ask "What do you think?" Even very young children have opinions and theories about their world. If they need their perceptions to be clarified, then the parent can say things like "I think ... ", "Many people think ... " or "Scientists have shown ... ". Modelling being absolutely certain about everything is an ineffective way to model reflection. Children need to be aware that much of our knowledge is opinion, and/or second hand.
When children get older, they absorb information from other sources, such as teachers, friends, the media, etc. Parents then need to ask "How do you know ...?" or "How can you be sure ...?" The implied question is "How can you be sure?". This means that good reflection requires that we are a little bit skeptical about our perceptions and our actions.
For school age children, and older, reflection is learned by considering a question such as "How do you think your mother/father/brother/sister/friend/etc. felt about it?"
Teenagers are mature enough to consider the wider implications of their actions, and the action of others. They can think about questions such as "What if everybody did that?" Because the teen years are a very ego-centric phase of life, parents must model and encourage empathy- why it is important to care?
When families have clear rules and consequences, and have conversations about the wider world, they can teach their children to become skilled reflectors, and life-long learners.
Five Simple Strategies for encouraging reflection in your child:
- Ask your children questions that get them to think about their actions.
- Provide reflective sentence starters for your child: for example,
- I feel proud that l can ...........
- I wonder ..........
- l am able to .........
- Teach your child to take the time to explore his/her feelings, by modelling it.
- Teach your child to plan their actions, by modelling it.
- Encourage your child to keep a journal/diary to record their thoughts and feelings